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Caffe Umbra, South End: Restaurant Week Mediocrity

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Caffe Umbra, South End: Restaurant Week Mediocrity

Lauren R. | Mar 6, 2006 09:57 PM

Before I tell you about an utterly disappointing meal at Caffe Umbra, I want to make clear that a) we went for dinner during Restaurant Week (I haven't heard of anyone having a good meal during this winter's thrown-together affair anyway), b) we went on a Monday, a night they are not typically open, and c) it was our first time there so I guess we will never know it's usual glory.

We started with mussels in a white wine sauce, which were actually the best I've ever tasted, and we also opted for the assortment of warm olives which were comparable to the sketchy ones at Stop N Shop. For an entree, Ben had the skirt steak "Pizzaiola" with potato wedges and brocolli rabe. It was OK, but not particularly inventive or flavorful--we had a good laugh over the perceived difference between steak staked on top of potato wedges and "pizzaiola", which we were assured was a "style of pizza making" but with steak (huh?).

My entree was the crispy chicken which looked and tasted like a Swanson TV dinner. I wish I were exaggerating, but it literally looked like the chef opened a TV dinner box and popped it into the toaster oven. The side dishes were slightly better, albeit heavily salted (the gooey, half-cooked bacon risotto, the watery swiss chard, and a perfectly cooked poached egg--the best part of the meal).

Dessert was actually great--Ben had the chocolate torte, and I had the sticky toffee pudding, although it was the waiter's mistake that I even got it as their signature dessert was not even on the Restaurant Week menu.

The worst part about the whole sub par experience was the atmosphere. It is clearly following some sort of formula for upscale, new American, Boston neighborhoody restaurants, and it had absolutely no personality, waitstaff included. From the maitre d' to the busboy/ bread distributer (yes, there was a strict and elaborate production made of passing out the three-day old, room-temperature rolls we knawed on before first course), it didn't seem like anyone was having a good time, nor did they even try to make their guests feel welcome.

Restaurant Week is an opportunity to show off your best stuff, to grab new regulars who might not make the trek to your piddly restaurant otherwise. Caffe Umbra cleary felt it was too good for Restaurant Week diners, and did not do anything to live up to the rave reviews I've always heard about it. I am just thankful that my lovely companion made the whole mediocre experience laughable.

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